Student - April 17, 2008

VHL helps Rwanda with education reforms

The question of how to make higher education more practical and tuned to the labour market is not confined to the Netherlands. A conference on competence-based learning in sub-Saharan Africa was held in Rwanda from 21 March to 4 April. Four people from Van Hall Larenstein Velp and Wageningen attended the meeting. VHL is involved in a number of education reform projects in Africa.

‘In Rwanda we were guests of the Institut Supérieur d’Agriculture et d’Elevage,’ tells Wouter van den Wall Bake, teacher and the international projects leader in Velp. ‘The institute found itself in a phase of reconstruction after the genocide of 1994 and a fire in 1998. The teachers, who all studied abroad, had little in the way of a network or a frame of reference in their own country. The educational environment was very isolated: students didn’t get work experience or do thesis research.’ Van den Wall Bake was accompanied by the director of the Land and Water Management programme Jos Wintermans and Wybe van Halsema from Velp, and Marco Verschuur from Wageningen.

Van Hall Larenstein has been assisting the Rwandan education institute with education reforms since October 2004, helping to make the curricula more practically oriented and to strengthen links with external parties such as governments and private firms. Van den Wall Bake: ‘Linking up with society has worked miracles. The institute now gets part of its revenue from external projects. Students are working on projects, for example building terraces and protecting catchment areas for drinking water, and they participate in studies on subjects like the potato production chain.’

Nuffic, the Netherlands Organisation for International Cooperation in Higher Education, is financing the projects. Wageningen International is also involved in similar projects, that have been going for three or four years, on how to make higher education more tuned to the labour market and more practically oriented.

The idea for a conference arose from the need that the staff at Van Hall Larenstein felt for an exchange, and ended up being a joint initiative with Nuffic. During the conference the participants also visited the Genocide Memorial Centre. ‘The close bond that grew between the participants during the conference arose partly from the emotions that the visit evoked. Added to that, we had had similar experiences with competence-based education. We got down to fundamental questions and that resulted in really exciting and frank discussions. There was absolutely no question of issues being irrelevant. Dutch universities and polytechnics are also faced with change. We had a very open exchange, and that was extremely stimulating,’ said Van den Wall Bake.

The tangible result of the conference is the Kigali Declaration, which lists the joint fields of experience and education reform elements, from entrance requirements and teacher training to social participation. An office will be established in Rwanda to set up an experience desk and a discussion forum for the partners. A second conference will probably take place next year on strategic choices.

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